Professor Anna Lora-Wainwright

Professor of the Human Geography of China

Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford

Pronouns: she/her

Academic Profile

Anna joined the School of Geography and the Environment in September 2009, jointly appointed by the School of Global and Area Studies (OSGA). She was promoted to Professor in 2018. She has a PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology from Oxford University; an MA in Chinese Studies and a BA in Anthropology, both from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Before taking up her post in Oxford, Anna worked as a lecturer and research fellow in Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester. She also previously held a Departmental Lecturership in the Modern Politics and Society of China at the Institute of Chinese Studies, University of Oxford.

Anna's research embodies a particular synergy between human geography, anthropology and the study of China and has focused on experiences of health, illness, environmental pollution, development and activism in the Chinese countryside. She is a keen supporter of long-term ethnographic field research and since 2004 she has carried out long periods of fieldwork in rural China. Anna has a long-standing interest in the various manifestations and implications of social reproduction and injustice, particularly as they relate to illness, pollution and other forms of discrimination. She is especially motivated to understand how injustices may become normalised and, conversely, the subtle ways in which individuals and communities may engage in various forms of activism to counter injustice.

Within this broad theoretical agenda, Anna's research has covered a diverse range of topics, including: attitudes to health and pollution in the Chinese countryside; lay cancer aetiologies; home care for illness and attitudes to formal healthcare provision; how coexisting moral economies of subsistence and the market are articulated in everyday life; experiences of urbanisation and land loss; international flows of e-waste; resistance to waste incineration; the rise of citizen science in rural China; the production and contestation of knowledge around pollution; environmental health activism and the formation of 'environmental health subjects'.

Anna's current and future research continues to concern China but also expands to Chinese communities overseas, particularly in the UK and Europe and to the various lines of divergence and solidarity among them. Her current research interests include: a comparative study of environmental injustice and citizen science initiatives; the rise of veganism and vegetarianism in China; culturally, socially and politically embedded understandings of well-being and healing in China and among Chinese overseas communities; evolving communities of care and identification among overseas Chinese and the relative role of the arts, digital media and various forms of entrepreneurship as sources of creativity and empowerment in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. Anna also expanded her interest in environmental justice beyond China, and in 2021 began undertaking collaborative work on toxicity and activism in Italy.

In 2023 Anna received a teaching excellence award in supervision in recognition of her "sustained passion, dedication, care and support for students, especially under difficult circumstances arising from challenging fieldwork". She is dedicated to creating an inclusive and diverse workplace, supporting early career scholars and engaging with non-academic audiences and stakeholders. She is closely involved in initiatives to tackle bullying and harassment and to promote welfare and wellbeing at work, and continues to serve as a mentor to several staff and students. In 2021-2023, she was chair of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee in SoGE. Anna is proud to be an LGBTQIA+ ally and a member of the anti-racism ally network. She has personal experience with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorders. She is committed to supporting colleagues and students living with mental health conditions and to creating a university where everyone can thrive. Having grown up in the Dolomites, she is an enthusiastic forager of everything from mushrooms to nettles. She enjoys growing vegetables, baking sourdough and she is a keen anti-waste advocate. She lives in Oxford with her partner and two young children.

Past Research

Anna's first monograph Fighting for Breath: Living Morally and Dying of Cancer in a Chinese Village is based on a total of 18 months of fieldwork in rural north-east Sichuan province starting in 2004. It is the first book-length ethnography to offer a bottom-up account of how families strive to make sense of cancer and care for sufferers in contemporary rural China. It explores lay perceptions of illness causality and everyday practices of care as prisms to understand how relationships with family members, locality and the state are reproduced or contested since the socio-economic reforms. Her second monograph, Resigned Activism: Living with Pollution in Rural China (MIT Press) draws on fieldwork in three sites undertaken in collaboration with colleagues and on a close analysis of work by Ajiang Chen and his team on 'cancer villages' to examine the complex spectrum of local responses to pollution. Anna also edited a special collection for The China Quarterly on 'Dying for Development: Pollution, Illness and the Limits of Citizens' Agency in China' (2013) and co-edited a special section of the journal AREA on 'Peering Through Loopholes, Tracing Conversions: Remapping the Transborder Trade in Electronic Waste' (2015, with Peter Wynn Kirby). Her research has appeared in Social Anthropology, The China Quarterly, The China Journal, The Journal of Contemporary China, Evidence and Policy, The Pace Environmental Law Review, World Development, Positions, and AREA.

Since 2006, her interests in cancer and in the mutual relationship between health, human activity and environment have led Anna to focus more closely on pollution in rural China, and she has organised and taken part in several interdisciplinary workshops on these topics. In 2012 Anna was awarded a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship to fund a year of research and work on her second monograph. In 2014 she spent a month at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center continuing work on the book. In 2013, Anna was awarded Philip Leverhulme Prize in Geography which has supported her research on pollution, health and activism in rural China and the development of new projects. She was director of a Leverhulme Trust Project on 'Circuits of Waste and Value: Making E-waste Subjects in China and Japan' (£322,557) which built on previous research with Peter Wynn Kirby funded by a John Fell Fund Award and in collaboration with Prof Li Liping at Shantou University. She was also co-investigator (with Thomas Johnson and Jixia Lu) on the project 'Coalitions of the "weak": fighting pollution at China's rural-urban interface', funded by Hong Kong Research Grants Council (HK$457,168).

Current Research

In 2022, Anna started fieldwork with Chinese communities in Venice alongside collaborative research on Chinese communities in Italy and in the UK. In Autumn 2022 she was Visiting Academic at Ca' Foscari University's New Institute Centre for Environmental Humanities, where she will be affiliated again in 2024-25 as she continues fieldwork with Chinese communities in Venice and collaborative research on environmental justice in Taranto, as part of the MISTRAL consortium.


MISTRAL - a toolkit for dynaMic health Impact analysiS to predicT disability-Related costs in the Aging population based on three case studies of steeL-industry exposed areas in Europe

Anna is co-investigator on MISTRAL (a toolkit for dynaMic health Impact analysiS to predicT disability-Related costs in the Aging population based on three case studies of steeL-industry exposed areas in Europe). This  interdisciplinary project (2023-2026) is funded by Horizon Europe (EU grant agreement ID 101095119) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). It combines epidemiology, biology, medicine, geography, and anthropology an involves researchers based in Italy, the UK, Belgium and Poland. As a whole, MISTRAL aims to develop a technological toolkit to predict the health impact of health-related features, forecasting the trajectories of disability and quality of life reduction. This method will use environmental, socio-economic, geographical, and clinical characteristics. The generated models will be adjusted for lifestyle and individual conditions data sourced from large population-based digital surveys. The models will be trained and validated on three different exposures to the steel plants' pollution: Taranto in southern Italy, Rybnik in Poland, and Flanders in Belgium. At the University of Oxford, the project team led by Anna involves Dr. Maaret Pansini-Jokela as project manager, Prof Beth Greenhough and Raffaele Ippolito. Our team is responsible for the social science aspects of the project, with particular focus on ethics and public engagement and with the aim of improving project participants’ understanding of the project and providing opportunities for feedback from the communities affected. Anna began fieldwork and interviews in Taranto in June 2023, together with the research fellow, Raffaele. Building on Raffaele and Maaret’s earlier research, the Oxford team explores the multiple ways in which a range of local residents in Taranto experience pollution, make sense of its effects and relate to epidemiological research, foremost the research undertaken by MISTRAL. In this way, we also provide a framework for social science engagement in the other regions where MISTRAL operates.


Everyday activism and Zero Waste Living in China

This project explores tensions and synergies between individual practices of “Zero Waste Living” (ZWL), civil society promotion of ZWL, and the Chinese state’s narratives of “ecological civilisation” and “circular economy”. It is a collaboration between Anna, Tom Johnson and Katherine Yuet Wong and draws on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews in Hangzhou, online research and interviews with campaigners involved in China’s Zero Waste Alliance. The project illustrates how everyday practices allow ZWL advocates to articulate subjectivity and care between private and public spheres. It contributes to the study of activism by questioning the binary between “everyday environmentalism” and contentious collective action and promotes a more nuanced understanding of agency, subjectivity and ethics. It is supported by the University of Sheffield, the University of Oxford and by a British Academy Small Grant (SRG2324\241625, £8,667.00, April 2024-April 2026).


Care, solidarity and creativity among Chinese communities in the UK and in Italy

Developed in collaboration with community members, this project investigates the forms of care, solidarity and creativity performed and materialised through everyday interactions in private lives as well as through engagements with community organisations. It explores the ways in which care, solidarity and creativity may be nurtured by a range of shared practices, for instance shared language, shared culinary traditions, shared cultural festivals, shared experiences of racialisation.

The project unfolds concurrently in the UK and in Italy. In the UK, Anna works with her current student Kristy Ai-tong Bryant; they both are involved in fieldwork, interviews and online research. In Italy, Anna has volunteered for Associazione Passacinese since 2022 to offer Chinese-Italian children one to one support during after-school meetings. This has enabled her to develop a growing network of research participants in Venice and the Veneto region, where she grew up. Anna has complemented this data with online interviews with second-generation Chinese-Italians from a range of regions, providing a broader context for the project. Together with her Chinese-Italian former student Valentina Zheng, Anna has expanded the project beyond the Veneto to Tuscany, where Valentina grew up, drawing on their different networks and positionalities.

The project purposefully adopts an open-ended approach to care, solidarity, community and creativity, in order to empower participants to define these terms and to represent their experiences and concerns more faithfully.

The project was approved by the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies’ Research Ethics Committee (UK: SSH_OSGA_CHINA_C1_22_082; Italy: SSH_OSGA_CHINA_C1_23_106) and supported by OSGA, SOGE, St Cross College, a John Fell Grant (grant number 0013542, £9,926.98) and by an affiliation to the New Institute Centre for Environmental Humanities at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.


Research fellows supported

  • Coraline Goron (2017-2019), postdoctoral research fellow funded by the Wiener-Anspach Foundation at the University of Oxford China Centre. Her work at Oxford focused on governmental uses of environmental information and social media impacts on the resolution of environmental conflicts in China. Prof. Goron also collaborated with Anna and Shuling Huang on citizen science in rural China.
  • Virginie Arantes (2021-2023) postdoctoral research fellow funded by the Wiener-Anspach Foundation at the University of Oxford China Centre. Her project at Oxford concerned a comparative analysis of Environmental NGOs roles in China and Taiwan and effective ‘collaborative’ governance.
  • Elisa Tamburo (2022-2025) is a Marie Skłodowska Curie Postdoctoral Fellow; her project is “Negotiating the City: Urban planning and dwelling amidst China-built urban infrastructure in Nairobi, Kenya”.
  • Maaret Jokela-Pansini is a research fellow at SoGE and project manager on MISTRAL.


Selected grants and prizes

  • 2024-2026 - Zero Waste Living in Urban China, British Academy Small Grant (SRG2324\241625, £8,667.00)
  • 2023-2026 - MISTRAL a toolkit for dynaMic health Impact analysiS to predicT disability-Related costs in the Aging population based on three case studies of steeL-industry exposed areas in Europe, funded by the EU funding programme Horizon Europe (EU grant agreement ID 101095119) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • 2021 - 'Creativity, community and empowerment: Chinese migration in the UK'. Seedcorn Grant, Open University. Co-I with Prof. L. Wainwright
  • 2018 - BBC and British Sociological Association Thinking Allowed Prize for Ethnography awarded to Resigned Activism
  • 2015-2019 - Circuits of Waste and Value: Making E-waste Subjects in China and Japan. Leverhulme Trust Project Grant RPG-2014-224 (£322,557)
  • 2014-2017 - (Co-Investigator with Thomas Johnson and Jixia Lu) Coalitions of the "weak": fighting pollution at China's rural-urban interface. Hong Kong Research Grants Council (HK$457,168)
  • 2014 - Bellagio Center Rockefeller Academic Writing Residency
  • 2013 - Winner of Philip Leverhulme Prize in Geography (£70,000) PLP-2013-074
  • 2012-2013 - Urban mining, toxic payload: transnational circuits of e-waste between Japan and China. John Fell OUP research fund (Oxford University) (£86,793)
  • 2012-2014 - 'Environmental Cultures' Network, British-Interuniversity China Centre, Network Leader funded by AHRC, ESRC and HEFCE (£10,900)
  • 2012-13 - Living with Pollution in China: and Ethnographic Perspective, Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship (RF-2012-260) (£43,342)
  • 2010-12 - Making Environmental Health Subjects in Contemporary Rural China: Contested Illnesses, Pollution and the "Good Life", British Academy, SG091048 (£7,480)
  • 2004-05 - Study Abroad Studentship, The Leverhulme Trust, SAS/6/SAS/2004/0055 (£13,500 per annum)
  • 2003-06 - AHRB Postgraduate Award, Doctoral Competition
  • 2002-03 - AHRB Postgraduate Award, Masters Competition

Teaching and Supervision

  • Human Geography Prelims course
  • Undergraduate option 'The Politics, Society and Culture of China'
  • Graduate elective 'The Politics, Society and Culture of China' (for OSGA students)
  • 'Environmental Justice', MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance,
  • 'The Study of Modern China', MSc Modern Chinese Studies
  • China's Environment and Environmental Movements, MSc elective for SoGE and OSGA students (2009-2021)
  • OSGA and SoGE DPhil Seminars

Current Graduate Research Students

Teresa Irigoyen-Lopez Mapping Chinese Labour Mobilities: a Multi-sited Ethnography of Domestic and International Migration between Zhejiang Province and Europe    
Sarah Hui Ann Tan

Home Sweet Homes: Exploring the Materialities and Temporalities of Education-induced Migration and Transnational Living amongst Malaysian Chinese in the UK


Katherine Yuet Wong


Searching for a Good Old Life in a Digital China: Ordinary Ethics, Care, and Subjectivities in Urban Hangzhou

Mingxuan Li


Giving Birth to a Mother: Experiences and Practices of ‘Ordinary Pregnancy’ in Contemporary China
Yi-Ting Chang

From Geo- to Astropolitics: How Taiwan Constructs Vertical Territory within the Global Satellite Network

Nina Djukanovic "Green Are Fields, Not Mines": The Case of Lithium Mining and Resistance in Serbia
Sangwon Chae The Shifting Urban Paradigm and the Politics of Alternative Urban Place-Making: a case study on Seoul, South Korea
Kristy Bryant
(Global and Area Studies, Oxford)
The Chinese Gaze Towards the West: Conceptualising Anti-Western Sentiments Through Netizens' Interactions with 'Baizuo'    
Kevin Wang
(Anthropology, Oxford)
Urban Futures: Toward a New Model of Urbanisation and Urban Living in China  

Recent Graduate Research Students (since 2006)

Raffaele Ippolito

Completed DPhil in 2024

Global Environmental (in)Activism: An Ethnography of Pollution, Illness and Community Resistance in Italy and Taiwan

Barclay Bram Shoemaker
Completed DPhil in 2021
(Global and Area Studies, Oxford)
We Can Only Fix Ourselves: Psychotherapy and personal development in China.  
Shona Loong
Completed DPhil in 2021

At the margins of a "development darling": civil society, territory, and development in Karen State, Myanmar

Guanli Zhang
Completed DPhil in 2019

Digesting industrialisation: social changes in two industrialised villages in east China

Irina Fedorenko
Completed DPhil in 2018

Environmental activism, non-governmental organisations and new generation of civil society in Russia and China

Jonathan Balls
Completed DPhil in 2017

Fluid capitalism at the bottom of the pyramid: a study of the off-grid solar power market in Uttar Pradesh, India

Saher Hasnain
Completed DPhil in 2017

Food environments in Islamabad, Pakistan

Carlo Inverardi Ferri
Completed DPhil in 2016

Invisible spaces: variegated geographies of waste in China

Yuge Ma
Completed DPhil in 2016

The emergence of low carbon development in China and India: energy efficiency as a lens

Charlotte von Mangoldt
Completed DPhil in 2016

Student environmentalism in Beijing, China

Loretta Ieng Tak Lou
Completed DPhil in 2016
(Anthropology, Oxford)
Healing Nature: Green living and the politics of hope in Hong Kong.  
Sam Geall
(Manchester University)
Pollution and the Press: Investigating eco-governmentality in contemporary China.  

Selected Publications

Resigned Activism: Living with Pollution in Rural China
Lora-Wainwright, A. (2017)
The MIT Press
Resigned Activism: Living with Pollution in Rural China

Revised Edition published 2021.

Fighting for Breath: Cancer, healing and social change in a Sichuan village
Lora-Wainwright, A. (2013)
University of Hawaii Press
Fighting for Breath: Cancer, healing and social change in a Sichuan village
Maaret, J.-P., Ippolito, R., Greenhough, B. and Lora-Wainwright, A. (2024) Social Science & Medicine, pp. 116866–116866.
1992346 - Creating safety amidst chronic contamination: A mi...
Johnson, T., Lora-Wainwright, A. and Lu, J. (2018) Sustainability Science, 13(3), pp. 733–746.
825835 - The quest for environmental justice in China: citi...
LORA-WAINWRIGHT, A. (2017) Resigned Activism. MIT Press.
Yu, H., Edmunds, M., Lora-Wainwright, A. and Thomas, D. (2016) Environmental Science & Policy, 55, pp. 65–74.
581516 - Governance of the irrigation commons under integra...
Lora-Wainwright, A. (2015) The China Quarterly, 221, pp. 250–251.
518880 - Chinese Research Perspectives on the Environment (...
LORA-WAINWRIGHT, A. (2015) in Burke, N., Mathews, H., and Kapriani, E. (eds.) Anthropologies of Cancer in Transnational Worlds. Routledge, pp. 37–52.
Kirby, P. and Lora-Wainwright, A. (2015) AREA, 47(1), pp. 4–6.
510103 - Peering through loopholes, tracing conversions: re...
Kirby, P. and Lora-Wainwright, A. (2014) Area [Preprint].
510104 - Exporting harm, scavenging value: transnational ci...
Lora-Wainwright, A. (2014) positions, 22(3), pp. 661–689.
485225 - Grassroots perspectives on relocation: threats and...